Developer Interview with Tmesis Studio

We did an interview with the developers of the game Universe for Sale, that was released today; about the game, game development and games in general. Enjoy!

1. Tell us a bit about you?

We are Tmesis studio! The group consists of only three people: myself (Zeno), the artist and author of the game's story, Federico, the developer who is a jack-of-all-trades ranging from programming to building bicycles, and Guglielmo, the sound designer who studied at the Conservatory and works in sound design for theater and cinema.

We all come from different worlds. I come from artistic studies and work as an illustrator and comic book author. Federico studied architecture and is a versatile person with a wide range of skills. We are all friends and have always wanted to create something beautiful together.

2. What were your favorite games or games when growing up?

Zeno: I really like exploration and management games, much better if set in space: Outer Wilds, FTL and RimWorld are my favorites!

Federico: When I was a kid, I loved almost all kinds of video games, as is normal when you are a kid! From platform/adventure like Rayman, Prince of Persia or Super Mario Sunshine to party games to play as a family (we are 4 brothers) like Mario Party 4 or Mario kart Double-Dash on Gamecube! how many big laughs, Over time I got more and more into fps (Halo, Battlefield, Cod), especially competitive multiplayer.

Guglielmo: Gush! I'm a kind of a fixed guy, when I fall in love with a game I could spend hours and hours on every detail. My first love is Super Mario 64, then Halo CE. I've forgotten to mention my fancy game, a french point and click called Forestia, now a cult for its horror features.

As you may have noticed, there is no one on our team who is passionate about narrative games. This may seem curious because UfS is extremely narrative, but we like to think that we are creating something that would help us appreciate this type of game, going beyond the traditional narrative game schemes.

3. When did you start making games?

Federico and I (Zeno) started in 2016 with a small point-and-click game prototype for smartphones during our university days, both completely self-taught. After that, we took different paths and only started again in 2020 with Universe For Sale.

4. What made you start developing games?

We have always been passionate about video games, we believe it's an incredible means of self-expression. When Federico and I (Zeno) met, this shared passion emerged. I knew how to draw, and he knew how to program, so we naturally started experimenting on this medium.

5. Why did you decide to make this particular game (Universe For Sale)?

After the first experiments we wanted to try something bigger, I (Zeno) had an idea for a comic, but I couldn’t find a publisher who wanted to publish it, so we decided to try to turn it into a video game, focusing on the narrative and the medium of the comic.

Universe for Sale

6. What are your characters based on in the game? For example real life experiences, movies etc.

The main characters (Lila and the Master) were derived from a very long and difficult process of summarization. The Master was born from a series of cards that I made years ago, with a style similar to tarot cards, depicting a series of characters that I pulled out of a stream of thoughts. The Master was the first and perhaps most successful. I wanted him to have a mysterious face with a look that had seen many things but still with a spark of curiosity.

On the other hand, Lila was built much more meticulously. I am a big fan of stories with female protagonists and have always wanted to create one myself. Even before having a story, Lila changed face and name dozens of times. I wanted to start with her and then think about the right plot that could fit.

Therefore, the characters have completely separate origins. However, one day they came together in a small vignette where they were chatting in front of a cup of tea, and that is where their story began.

7. How would you describe the style of your game?

The game style is strongly influenced by Sci-Fi comics from the 80s, but we wanted to move away from the world of Japanese and American comics, which is very saturated nowadays, focusing instead on European comics.

While American and Japanese comics focus heavily on the protagonists, their actions and emotions, European comics are more focused on the context of the story. Often, the protagonists become part of an illustration and reflect the experiences of the place where they are.

There is also a different attention to color and line art. The French school is characterized by a clear and artistic line, which enhances details and gives a documentary style. In Universe for Sale, we wanted to achieve this effect. The characters are small details of a more complex illustration that vibrates in front of the player's eyes.

Similarly, the story and the protagonists (Lila and the Master) will be a mirror of life on Jupiter. In fact, throughout the game, they will talk a lot about their experiences, friendships, and hopes on the planet.

Universe for Sale

8. What have been hardest in the development process of the game?

Many little things! Having been our first serious project we made a lot of mistakes, many times we didn’t take into account things that we thought were easy, and then they wasted a lot of time afterwards.

Even banally the dialogue system, at first it seemed a simple thing but gradually it became more and more intricate, leading us to spend months fixing bugs.

9. What are you most proud of about your game/what do you like most about the game?

Surely the artistic style is the thing we focused on the most and we are very proud of how it came.

Moreover, we are very happy to see that when someone who is not passionate about narrative plays our game, they are often surprised by how they become immersed in the story and world. This helps us understand that, thanks to the narrative method and artistic style, we have broken down the barriers that written text can sometimes create for an average player.

10. Is there anything you think could have been better?

At first we wanted to put more exploration and interaction, but during the development of the game, we had to cut a lot of things because they started to be beyond our capabilities. In any case we think it is not a big deal, that the fact that the game is very "essential" it’s also a good thing.

11. Are there any Easter eggs in the game?

Many! Federico is a big fan of the easter eggs and he wanted to insert some of them in the game, but I think nobody will ever find them. We like to make them extremely cryptic, which will be an end in itself.

A big thank you to Zeno, Federico and Guglielmo, for taking the time to answer these questions. It was interesting to know more about them and their game. Hope to see more games from them in the future!